Back in December of 2016, I traveled to Helsinki, Finland to cover the annual We Jazz Festival for the New York City Jazz Record. The festival was a blast; shows were held in unorthodox venues like a movie theater, an art gallery, and a decommissioned asylum, and I also got to visit the city’s music school and some of its awesome record stores. At one of those stores, which specialized in loud guitar music, I asked the clerk for something in a punk or metal vein, but not something well-known outside Finland. He sold me a copy of Mitä Saisi Olla? (translation: How Can I Help You?), the latest CD by a band called Nyrkkitappelu (translation: Fistfight). I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until I got back to America, but when I did, I was blown away.
Nyrkkitappelu, on this album anyway, were a fist-pumping, face-punching, howling-at-the-moon rock ’n’ roll band. Yes, they played at punk-rock tempos, but their songs had melodies and choruses that you could hoist a beer in the air and shout along with, and their guitarists (there used to be two, now there’s just one) played blazing solos with surprising frequency. They reminded me of great, explosive bands like Sweden’s Disfear and Norway’s Kvelertak (with whom I worked when I was at Roadrunner Records — they put on one of the greatest live shows I’ve ever seen).
Vocalist Horo-Hepe has a compelling yawp (and excellent sideburns), and the band absolutely burns through every track on the four albums I’ve heard. Mitä Saisi Olla? about tore my head off, and it turns out that was their attempt at mainstream crossover. I have recently checked out the album before it — 2014’s Haluan Olla Rocktähti Ja Saada Paljon Naisia, which translates to I Want to Be a Rock Star and Get Lots of Women — and the two after, 2020’s Isosta Nyrkistä Naamaan (From Big Fist to Face) and Ongelmanuorten Sävellahja (The Gift of Melody for Troubled Youth), which came out this month. All three are absolutely blistering. (They have one more album, 2013’s Bangkok Rocks Saigon Shakes Nyrkkitappelu Rocks, which I don’t own.)
All the songs are in Finnish, but that doesn’t matter a bit. You’ll want to sing along, whether the song is a 90 mile-an-hour sprint like “Tappakaa Mut” or an AC/DC-esque headbanger like “Onko Sulla Lupa Pitää Kivaa?” (Both of those are from Haluan…). Even when they get epic, like on “Mitä Mä Saan?” (translation: What Do I Get?) from Mitä…, which is their longest song at 3:53, they still have a classic rock quality. It almost reminds me of Blue Öyster Cult, with a little less prog and a little more face-punching.
(Side note: Finnish is a completely incomprehensible language. You know how if you understand a language from one of the major linguistic families — Romance or Germanic, say — you can kind of at least guess what someone in one of the other languages from that family is trying to say to you? Well, forget about trying that with Finnish, because it seems to have fallen from space. No other language in that part of the world sounds anything like it, or shares any words in common. It doesn’t even sound like a human throat should be able to make some of these sounds, and in written form it’s even wilder. Umlauts. Sö mäny ümläüts.)
Nyrkkitappelu albums are over in a hurry. Like the Ramones, or Van Halen. Bangkok… has 10 tracks and runs 23 minutes; Haluan… offers 12 songs in 25; Mitä… is their epic, with 10 tracks in 31 minutes; Isosta… has 11 tracks and lasts just 20 minutes; and the brand-new Ongelmanuorten… has 11, running 27 minutes. It’ll take you about two hours to get through their entire catalog, all of which is on streaming services in the US. So what are you waiting for?
Here’s the video for “Farkkuhaarniska” (translation: “Denim Armor,” I guess referring to metalheads’ battle vests), from Ongelmanuorten Sävellahja. If this doesn’t sell you, well, you and I have different understandings of the verb “to rock,” I guess.